Monday, August 31, 2009

Saint Aidan's Day

Aidan's prayer:
Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.
I found it here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What really defiles us

In this morning's gospel reading, Jesus declares that we are not defiled by what goes into our mouths but rather by what comes out. Here's a story that illustrates how seriously we need to concern ourselves with that teaching:

- A woman once went to St. Francis of Assisi and asked what she had to do to be forgiven for her gossiping. St. Francis told her to take feathers and place one at the doorstep of everyone she had spoken ill of in the town. She did so and returned to the wise saint. Francis told her to then go and retrieve all the feathers. When she attempted to do so, they were all gone. By that time the feathers were scattered all around town. Once again, she returned to St. Francis and told him about the feathers. He said to her, "You wish to repent and be forgiven of your sin. Good. But the damage of your words is done and can not be taken back."
I found the story right here.

You know, I'm trying to remember a time the Church tore itself apart because of (rather - objecting to) the gossips within our midst. I'm not having much success here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Words of great consolation

Artist: Brunhilde Mayer

For however devoted you are to God, you may be sure that God is immeasurably more devoted to you.

- Meister Eckhart

Friday, August 28, 2009

The theological question facing us

Artist: Victor Dubreuil

For a long time now I have believed that Walter Brueggemann is one of the most important theologians/biblical scholars writing today. I had the enormous privilege of meeting him and hearing him speak here in Tulsa a few years ago. What he says below is really important, I think. Even urgent:

Though many of us are well intentioned, we have invested our lives in consumerism. We have a love affair with ‘more’—and we will never have enough. Consumerism is not simply a marketing strategy. It has become a demonic spiritual force among us, and the theological question facing us is whether the Gospel has the power to help us withstand it.

-- Walter Brueggemann

Thursday, August 27, 2009


I wanted to share with you the above unusual icon and also the following quotation from the 10th Century:

The lives and the eulogies of the Saints resemble, by their luminosity, the stars: for as the stars, firmly studded in the firmament as they are, illume the entire universe, and the same stars are beheld by the Indians, and are not hid from the Scythians, and shed their radiance over the earth and the seas, and show the way to the ships: and even if we know not their names for their multitude’s sake, we as yet admire their brilliant loveliness. So, too, doeth the brilliance of the Saints, even when their relics are shut under a tombstone, yet their miracles in the entire universe are not bound by earthly confines: we admire their lives and wonder at the glory wherewith God glorifieth those who have pleased Him.

-- St. Symeon Metaphrastes on the Lives of the Saints

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The importance of learning to celebrate

When things are difficult, taking the following attitude will really help you get through:

In the muddled mess of this world, in the confusion and boredom and amazement, we ought to be able to spot something — an event, a person, a memory, an act, a turning of the soul, the flash of bright wings, the surprise of sweet compassion — somewhere we ought to pick out a glory to celebrate.

Samuel H. Miller in The Dilemma of Modern Belief

I've discovered that about people who come to talk to me. Often, it's not so much that they need someone to listen to their problems (although I don't belittle the importance of that) as much as they need someone with whom to celebrate their joys and successes. Both, actually, are important.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Into the beautiful darkness

Artist: Józef Chełmoński

Wouldn't that be utterly lovely? To stop struggling?

Giving yourself up to love is melting into God. It is falling into the hands of the living God with complete abandon. This is the deep, interior prayer for which we have been striving. Here we must let go of our dependency on thoughts, words, and images. We go into the beautiful darkness. We stop struggling. We let the angels carry us. Surrender is the only word we know.

-- Macrina Wiederkehr from A Tree Full of Angels

And I also think that the words "into the beautiful darkness" are deeply and wonderfully strengthening and consoling.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"How lovely is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts! "

Psalm 84 is one of the choices from the lectionary for this morning:

Berliner Philharmoniker with Claudio Abbado
Swedish Radio Choir
Eric Ericson Chamber Choir

I listened to a number of recordings to find just the right one for you. The one above has undoubtedly the best tenor section of the lot - truly needed for this movement of the German Requiem.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

To love or to be loved?

A Currier and Ives piece
Many people who come to talk to me really, really want to be loved. That's so understandable, so normal. But is it really the aspiration that will bring us the greatest peace, the greatest happiness?

The important thing was to love rather than to be loved.

W. Somerset Maugham

Yes, it would be wonderful to have both. But if you could only have one, which would it be? That may be the most important question you'll ever ask in your life.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Something wonderful

Artist: Giovanni di Paolo

Probably the best thing this great existentialist ever said:

God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: God makes saints out of sinners.

-- Søren Kierkegaard

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Where is heaven anyway?

"Court of Heaven"
Artist: Fra Angelico

Maybe it's a bit too clever or maybe it's a bit on the glib side; it's also very true:

The purpose of religion -- at any rate, the Christian religion -- is not to get you into heaven, but to get heaven into you.

-- Frederick Ward Kates

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How we learn to listen

Artist: Caspar David Friedrich

If God is love, then let our love speak to us of God.
If God is good, then let what is good speak to us of God.
If God is joy, then let what fills us with joy speak to us of God.
If God is peace, then let what brings us peace speak to us of God.
If God is life, then let what is full of life speak to us of God.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Joined in the Moment

"Endless Road" by Margret Hofheinz-Döring

I thought maybe I had posted this before but I did a search on this blog and couldn't find it so here goes:

One Easy Step to Enlightenment

First off, and I do mean first
You know in your heart
that the times are changing
Oh so much slower than we thought
and you know in your heart
that the good guys and the bad guys
don't know any more than you what's going on
End of the World?
End of Time?
I'm here to tell you
and yes that is my job
It doesn't matter
This moment and only this moment, matters
It is your heart, your very soul
that will shape this moment
and when we, together
Awaken to the idea
that is this moment
we will reach out
Without any thought for
what's in it for us
without any notion of our need
but reach out in one infinitesimal
for no other reason than to
In the Moment

-- Krev Roues

I would submit that fear utterly disappears whenever we're able to take on the message of this poem.

I would also submit that this was at least part of what Jesus was saying when he told the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise."
PS: Ah, I see that I have posted it before but it was over on my blog Meditation Matters. Well it belongs here too so I'm not taking it down! :-)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Too perfect for words. I'm serious.

This is all you ever need to know. Really:

Shamelessly nicked from MadPriest.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saint Mary the Virgin

Here is an excerpt from a sermon preached on this day in 2007 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Clifton, NJ :
The assumption is that moment when the promises become real for one member of the mystical body of Christ and so assure us all that the symbolic world indeed is giving way to reality. That reality is the resurrection of the mystical body of Christ and its formation in the world across the boundaries of time and space. It is a reality that we form even this day, but we form in faith and in hope, heirs of the promise that we hold this day in clay vessels as we await the redemption of our bodies.

Mary has passed from the symbolic into the real. That is the first meaning of this day’s feast. We, in the heat of the summer, oppressed by the heat of our lives and the weight of its deep humidity, find renewed hope for the redemption of our own bodies.

We stand this day in hope, even as we look to heaven to behold a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The heart in thrall to God

Mural painting from the catacomb of Commodilla (Fourth Century)

I haven't thought of this text in a long time now and just happened upon it today. Way back in my minister of music days I remember teaching my choir a lovely, haunting piece with these words:

I bind my heart, this tide, to the Galilean's side,
To the wounds of Calvary, to the Christ who died for me.

I bind my soul this day to the brother far away
And the brother near at hand, in this town and in this land.

I bind my heart in thrall to God, the Lord of all.
To God, the poor man's friend, and the Christ whom He did send.

I bind myself to peace, to make strife and envy cease.
God, knit Thou sure the cord of my thralldom to my Lord!

- Lauchlan Maclean Watt

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thinking about salvation

There's a lot of misunderstanding out there about what the word "salvation" actually means. Here's something that can illuminate our reflections on the subject:

There are a number of Hebrew words about salvation which also mean "to bring into a spacious environment", "to be at one's ease", "to be free to develop". "Salvation" can be seen then as the new life in Christ, in which we are to be "free to develop" into Christ-like people. For this maturing to take place, there needs to be a breaking down of barriers, a breaking up of the soil of our personalities, and a healing of inner wounds and hurts. The soil is softened, the clay becomes malleable through the experience of the tender love of God and the accepting, non-judgmental love of Christians. We cannot be beaten into shape.

-- Michael Harper

That last sentence is very, very important and a lot of Christians today don't understand it at all.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Gesture of love

If this doesn't make you cry, you might need a heart tune-up or something.

(Charlotte Alexandre sent me this and I'm so very glad she did.)

Monday, August 10, 2009

If there is to be understanding...

Artist: Jan van Eyck
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Dear Readers,

I want to call your attention to an article that was sent to me by Teresa Wilbur, long time friend of St. John's Center. It is called Music: Essential for Life however the title does not begin to do justice to the power of the piece which is really an address to parents of incoming students at The Boston Conservatory.

I've always known that my years and years of training and professional work as a musician prepared me more than anything else possibly could have for my spiritual vocation. In fact, I have long been aware that the vocation is one. This brief piece by Dr. Karl Paulnack puts words to why that is true more eloquently than I have ever before experienced. And so I'm posting this on all three blogs today.

I will share only three sentences here:
If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don't expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that's what we do.
Please go read the whole thing. I promise you, you'll be glad you did.

And then listen to some good music today. Something beautiful. Something meaningful to you.

You'll be glad you did that too.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"I am the Bread of Life"

Artist: Francisco de Zurbarán

The readings for today are so moving, so powerful, so heart-wrenching and heart-opening that I want to cry. Depending on which choice one's parish selects for the first reading, we either have the story about the death of Absalom or that of Elijah being fed by the angel. The choice of Psalms is likewise profound: "Out of the depths have I called to you..." or "Taste and see that the Lord is good." The Epistle reminds us to put away malice, bitterness, slander and to be tenderhearted toward each other. And then, of course, we have the gospel reading. "I am the Bread of Life." Here's a reflection about the "I am" passages of John's gospel that represents something about how I have thought of them for a long time now:

The "I am" passages may be Jesus’ poetic expressions of ... a mystical experience in which his personality and ego fell away and the only reality he sensed was that of God. If this is how we understand the passages, then when Jesus said "I am the way ... no one comes to the Father, but by me", this may mean that the way to God is to become one with God, as Jesus did. It may mean that we do not get to God through dogma or doctrine, but rather through mystical union with God, an experience shared by mystics of many religions throughout history.

-- Jim Burklo

Yes, many biblical scholars say that these sayings have been put in the mouth of Jesus by "the teaching Church" and I agree with that too. I would also say that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Church recognized that what really mattered about Jesus was not his personality or ego but, rather, his shedding of those things about himself. Our epistle today from Ephesians tells us to be "imitators of God". Letting go of our ego definition will bring us into that mystical union indeed.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


More and more I'm learnging to appreciate the enormous value of encouragement.

The video below is not ostensibly religious or spiritual but it gives some wonderfully practical help in actually carrying out the admonition of St. Paul in Romans 12 when he said, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep."

I think you can see how the suggestions in the video help us put the prayer attributed to St. Francis into practice: "Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand..."

Friday, August 7, 2009

A candle to pray by

The music on this video is gorgeous. Don't quit watching before it kicks in!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Artist: Fra Angelico

The Transfiguration is not just about Jesus; it is about us. No one, I think, has ever expressed this reality more beautifully than the following:

God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God's love with our brothers and sisters, God's other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no opposition that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned into love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled.

-- Desmond Tutu

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A tunnel to freedom

The spoon

Some days I think I need nothing
more in life than a spoon.
With a spoon I can eat oatmeal
Or take the medicine doctors prescribe
I can swat a fly sleeping on the sill
or pound the table to get attention.
I can point accusingly at God
or stab the empty air repeatedly.
Looking into the spoon’s mirror,
I can study my face in its shiny bowl,
or cover one eye to make half the world
disappear. With a spoon
I can dig a tunnel to freedom
spoonful by spoonful of dirt,
or waste life catching moonlight
and flinging it into the blackest night.

-- Richard Jones

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Your spiritual profile

Artist: Sophie Gengembre Anderson

Which of the following describes your approach to faith or your faith personality most accurately?
I just rediscovered a website I first found several years entitled Explore Faith. You can answer a ten question survey to indicate your "type" according to the choices above. I turned out "seeker" . I'm not sure that really describes me but it's obvious that's how I answered the questions today!

While you're there, you might enjoy exploring the site. Lots of good stuff there!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

I think we need some Bach today!

From Cantata BWV 147:

English translation:
Make ready, O Jesus, to thee now the way;
My Savior, elect now
My soul ever faithful
And look down with eyes full of grace now on me!

Something I just remembered

Christian Science symbol

Quite a few years ago (pre-convent days) I lived next door to some dear people who were Christian Scientists. We became close friends and, in the process, I learned quite a bit about Christian Science. No, I'm not about to suggest that we give up going to doctors but I do want to say without reservation that there is much to be admired in Christian Science spirituality. This morning I happened to remember the opening sentence from their text book, Science and Health:

To those leaning on the Sustaining Infinite, today is big with blessings.
I love that. "The Sustaining Infinite" is both a deeply personal and also non-anthropomorphic name for God.

Here's something else I've always considered to be beautiful:

Divine Love always has met and always will meet every human need.
What orthodox Christian can argue with that? You often see those words painted on the front wall of Christian Science churches.

Finally I want to share with you something that prompted in me both reflection and sorrow when I first read it back in the 80s:

If all who ever partook of the sacrament had really commemorated the sufferings of Jesus and drunk of his cup, they would have revolutionaized the world.
I commend the above quotations to us all for reflection and contemplation today. They are all by Mary Baker Eddy.

By the way, the Christian Science Mother Church is in Boston and if you're ever there, please go by for a tour. It has a truly amazing organ - world class. And the building itself is lovely and also fascinating.